When Did Running for Office Become So Dangerous?
The GOP have proven that they'll do anything to win: lie, cheat, steal, beat down reporters ... and intimidate Democratic challengers with death threats.
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It’s cliché to say that you never forget your first death threat but, worse than that, it’s untrue. The first one fades from memory because the fifth one was so specific, and that one loses its power over you when you have to call law enforcement for the 12th one, and pretty soon, unless someone sends a picture of themselves in front of your current home holding today’s newspaper in one hand and a automatic weapon in the other, you get pretty sanguine about them all because the human body is simply not designed to be scared all of the time and the human brain is more or less designed to cope with trauma by normalizing it.
So it’s hard to imagine what threats Iowa congressional candidate and death-threat veteran Kim Weaver got in the last couple months that helped convince her to end her nascent campaign to unseat incumbent congressman and apparent supporter of white nationalist principles Steve King. It seems unlikely that they were the garden variety “I’m going to kill you, bitch,” that has become all but a greeting of sorts in some online interactions; it seems even doubtful that they were the more creative endeavors of the truly committed (if not committable), in which they wax near-poetic about the brutal rape that will proceed your painful and violent death and the degradation of your soon-to-be-rotting corpse which they will undertake once they have accomplished your demise.
It had to be something more specific, no matter how much cold water Steve King would like to throw on the idea that she got any at all.
The thing about specificity is that it helps you relive the rush of adrenaline that accompanied your first one, the all-but-forgotten one, the last time that you were really scared of a death threat because, until the second one comes, you think that only truly crazy people send death threats and truly crazy people can do anything, right? That first time, you think about Ronald Reagan and John Lennon, or Rebecca Schaeffer and Theresa Saldana, or Christina Grimmie (possibly depending on your age) and those Law & Order episodes you half-watched while drinking wine and looking up your exes on Facebook, and you try to tell yourself that you’re not important enough for any stranger to actually care about killing you.
But you save it, or maybe you take it to the police who laugh at you kindly, or maybe you just look over your shoulder for a few days for weird strangers staring too hard at your jugular vein and your heart beats faster and you don’t sleep because you keep thinking, Why would anyone want to kill me? and all that you can come up with, as a person of rational thoughts and rational interactions with the world, is that whomever sent it must be crazy, and you never know with crazy people.
But then the second one arrives, somehow, and the third and it starts to dawn on you that, in fact, that there is nothing really killable about your rather mediocre personage: No one attracts three different obsessive haters who really wish them physical harm who isn’t maybe a super-famous Hollywood type or Hillary Clinton. Instead, you realize that somehow, while you were out living your really sort of average life, American society had become a place in which the mere presence in the world of a woman, a stranger, with certain opinions could result in otherwise normal-seeming people taking time out of their own fairly average lives to threaten to rape her to death and piss on her corpse.
You almost don’t know which is worse: that one person might really want you dead because of whatever bullshit floated through your head at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon; or that it seemed totally acceptable to more than one person to threaten, even without any real intention of following through, to end your life for said bullshit. But then the fourth one arrives and, you know, you got a flat tire or the rain messed up your hair or you ate something that made you fart loud enough to disturb your cat and you prioritize it away, like, “God, another one of these?” and it becomes like that spiderweb in the guest room you’re always meaning to get rid of, because who has headspace for some weird shitwad halfway across the country who is probably spanking his pygmy marmoset thinking that his fuckery affects your day in the slightest.
But that fifth one takes you back to the fear you felt at the first one: maybe it mentions a family member, or it’s addressed to one. It’s slightly more unhinged than the drive-bys you’ve already come to think of as the gloppy results of a mental two-pump chump; or it’s slightly more specific; or maybe it’s just slightly more realistic—I mean, it’s probably really hard to rape someone to death with something the size of a baby carrot, after all, but knives and guns and blunt objects are pretty effective no matter how poorly be-penised their wielders, and the threatener suggests he has a realistic idea of where to find you with said weapon(s).
So you’re scared again, for a couple of hours or a couple of days, and nothing happens until the seventh and the eighth and the ninth and the tenth and the 11th roll in—11 other humans not just wishing for your death but promising (however ineptly, however impossibly) to cause it. You shrug them off but they’re little weights on your consciousness, little reminders that hell is really other people and those people would rather openly wish to cause your death than, like, go to Panera and eat a brownie. (Have you had one of their brownies? There’s no way it doesn’t improve a person’s psyche more than threatening to rape and kill a stranger on the internet.)
But the 12th, well, that’s the one that changes your life; it’s the picture of your home or your office, it’s the one with white powder in the envelope, it’s the one that mentions the hair color of your teenage daughter, or with screencaps of your teenage son’s Snapchats. It comes from a person who is really committed to fucking with you, the kind of crazy person you imagined was behind the first threat you ever received, it’s the one that makes the jaw of the cop who responds to your freaked-out call tighten as he tried to keep his poker face but you can tell he’s worried. It’s the one that makes you take an unscheduled vacation, or break your lease, or drop out of your political race or stop writing on the internet for a while; it’s the one that makes you question whether you should’ve been so sanguine about numbers one through 11, because maybe they’re more realistic than they sounded at the time.
They’re the kind of threats that upend the basis of our democracy and our society, by silencing and scaring away and driving out everyone but the people who would never be silent or scared, no matter how realistic the risk—and, goodness knows, having rational actors who think through risk and reward is reasonably important in government—and by driving out the people more likely to receive the more serious threats. They’re the kind of threats that true public servants, even those who benefit, ought to condemn and discourage, not dismiss and ignore.
Or else, you’re essentially guaranteeing that there will be more. And, with 2018 coming, there probably will be.
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